The Biden administration will make more Afghans eligible for priority refugee status in the U.S., expanding a program to take in those threatened as American troops withdraw and the Taliban make more gains.
Under the expansion announced Monday morning, the U.S. will offer so-called Priority 2 visa status to Afghans who worked for American media organizations as well as for U.S.-funded projects and nongovernmental organizations, the State Department said.
Previously, the U.S. had planned to offer refugee status to Afghans who had worked directly for the U.S. government, mostly for the military and for a certain length of time, under what’s known as the Special Immigrant Visa program. Their families were also eligible.
“The U.S. objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan,” the State Department said in a statement. “However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States.”
It said the “designation expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk due to their U.S. affiliation.”
The urgency of evacuating workers and their families rose after President Joe Biden announced in April that he intended to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan before Sept. 11. Last week, the first evacuation flight for some 200 Afghans who helped coalition forces arrived in the U.S. as they await visa processing. Members of Congress have pressed for faster and expanded action to protect those at risk.
About 750 former American military assistants — a group that also includes people who provided intelligence — who are far along in the visa vetting process will travel to the U.S. soon, officials said last week. With their family members, they’ll total about 2,500 people, according to Russ Travers, the senior deputy national security adviser.
Those whose applications aren’t as far along will be moved to a third country so they can be safe while their visa processing continues, said Tracey Jacobson, director of the State Department’s Afghanistan Coordination Task Force.